Stores in Greece open amid virus surge to help save economy

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A woman adjusts items inside a shop, at Glyfada suburb west of Athens, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Greece has relaxed some coronavirus restrictions despite surging COVID-19 cases that are straining hospitals to their limits, with retail stores to reopen and people allowed to drive outside their home municipalities for exercise on weekends. AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Retail stores across most of Greece were allowed to reopen Monday despite an ongoing surge in COVID-19 infections, as the country battles to emerge from deep recession.

Stores in greater Athens opened for pickup services only but remain closed in Greece’s second- and third-largest cities, Thessaloniki and Patras, because of fears of a more serious spike in infections.

Lockdown measures have been in force since early November, although shops opened briefly around the Christmas holiday season. The prolonged closures piled pressure on the economy.

Greek economic output shrank by 8.2% in 2020 while the national debt as a percentage of gross domestic product shot over 200%.

About 16% of the country’s residents have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccination but infection rates continue to rise.

“Opening retail businesses … will provide a decompression valve for our society and will help improve the implementation of (restrictive) measures,” government spokeswoman Aristoltelia Peloni said.

The center-right government has pinned its reopening policy on the mass distribution of test kits that will be provided for free on a weekly basis to help reopen schools, expected later this month, and the country’s vital tourism industry in mid-May.

In Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, protesting store owners hung black banners outside business entrances, angry that they weren’t allowed to reopen. Others opened their stores but didn’t serve customers, in an act of defiance. The head of the city’s chamber of commerce, Michalis Zorpidis, told the AP that it was taking the government to the country’s highest administrative court.

“We feel that the decision is unfair and illegal. That’s why we took legal actions against the government to reverse the decision,” Zorpidis said.

The daily number of confirmed infections nationwide — a statistic affected by testing levels — reached the highest rate since the start of the pandemic in Greece at 28.5 per 100,000 residents as a seven-day rolling average. The death rate is currently above the European Union average with the cumulative total at more than 8,300.

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Costas Kantouris reported from Thessaloniki. ___ Follow Derek Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Costas Kantouris at https://twitter.com/CostasKantouris

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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